108 ways of looking at asana

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The emerging “genre” of yoga photography has several defining characteristics: young, lithe, mostly female bodies; rippling muscles; bright spandex clothing (or just none at all); soft lighting; exotic settings; impressive and challenging postures; and excessive post-production.

But Jessica Davis aims to question, critique and subvert these conventions in her project, 108 Photographs. She set out to photograph and interview practitioners at an Ottawa-based Ashtanga studio, then compile the images and words in book form.

Davis deliberately chose an aesthetic very different from the norms in commercial yoga photography. She explains the intention of her project:

The spiritual and physical practice of yoga has become an industry in which modern body culture has taken over, leading to the commodification of the yoga practice. In many ways, these changes have been achieved through images. Contemporary images of yoga denote a particular type of photography and a particular type of body. The images encourage bodies to be critiqued and re-shaped through yoga into an acceptable form.

I was drawn to photograph the physical postures of yoga because what I really wanted to capture, the transformation nature of the practice, was inaccessible visually. At the same time, capturing the physical postures allowed me to see how the practice itself resists our modern culture of commodification and consumption. The physical difficulty of the practice requires constant patience and diligence to achieve results, which is a very different experience when contrasted with our culture of immediate gratification.

The darkness of these photographs serves to make the body inaccessible to our consumptive gaze. While the photographs in this series are a critique of modern posture practice, they also highlight those same physical elements of the practice, embodying (and accepting) it. The photographs themselves confront the commodification of the yoga industry by refusing to conform to the ideas and standards of what is acceptible and beautiful.

After a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the production costs of the book, which will be available in April. In the meantime, see some of Davis’ photos below or check out her website for the full collection. Davis also explains more about her vision for the project in this interview on small blue pearls.

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3 Comments

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  1. So great to see Jessica get some more press for her wonderful project! Looking forward to the book 🙂

  2. I love it! Thanks 🙂

  3. Love the essence of this project….but still, in my opinion (and my experience,) too many “pretzel” poses to truly depict what is really happening in yoga. Maybe this is true to the Ashtanga practice, which is not my area…. For me, yoga is more about what’s happening on the inside, and so, it is difficult to capture in a photo.